The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Georgia state Rep. Jason Spencer says Sacha Baron Cohen ‘took advantage of my paralyzing fear’

A series of public figures have fallen prey to Sacha Baron Cohen’s controversial new show, “Who is America?” (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)
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On Showtime’s “Who Is America?” Sunday night, Georgia state Rep. Jason Spencer (R) exposed himself and yelled racial epithets during a fake military-training session conducted by host Sacha Baron Cohen, who was dressed as a military commando.

The incident prompted broad condemnation, including from Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who called the appearance “appalling and offensive.”

Spencer just texted his response to the episode to The Washington Post. Here it is in its entirety:

“In 2017 I received countless death threats in connection with my introduction of legislation involving the wearing of masks. The threats escalated to the point that my wife received threatening phone calls concerning her and my children. I was very afraid for my safety and the safety of my entire family.

"Then, on June 14th, a gunman opened fire at members of Congress on a baseball field. I knew people on that field. Now, the fears I already had became more intensified as the reality of my family being targeted by a similar, deranged, would-be assassin became even more possible. I was in such a poor state of mind that my wife and I also undertook marriage counseling with a licensed therapist during this time.

"Sacha Baron Cohen and his associates took advantage of my paralyzing fear that my family would be attacked. In posing as an Israeli Agent, he pretended to offer self-defense exercises. As uncomfortable as I was to participate, I agreed to, understanding that these ‘techniques’ were meant to help me and others fend off what I believed was an inevitable attack.

"My fears were so heightened at that time, I was not thinking clearly nor could I appreciate what I was agreeing to when I participated in his ‘class.’ I was told I would be filmed as a ‘demonstration video’ to teach others the same skills in Israel. Sacha and his crew further lied to me, stating that I would be able to review and have final approval over any footage used.

"I deeply regret the language I used at his request as well as my participation in the ‘class’ in general. If I had not been so distracted by my fears, I never would have agreed to participate in the first place.

“I apologize to my family, friends, and the people of my district for this ridiculously ugly episode. Finally, there are calls for me to resign. I recently lost my primary election, so I will not eligible to hold office next term. Therefore, I will finish the remaining five months at my post and vacate my seat."

Spencer, who has a history of controversial statements, was defeated in a primary in May by newcomer Steven Sainz as he sought his fifth term in office. Other Georgia lawmakers have called for him to step down before his current term expires.

“Representative Spencer has disgraced himself and should resign immediately,” said Georgia House Speaker David Ralston. “Georgia is better than this.”